WIKI KAHIKA, M.I.D. – RNZE Assault Pioneer to receive Mentioned In Dispatches for Gallantry in Vietnam nearly 50 years after the event !

572333 – WIKI KAHIKA,  M.I.D.    

One of my avid website readers and a keen supporter of MRNZ’s work is a former NZ Army colleague (circa 1970), Warrant Officer Class 2 (Rtd) Stu Ross RNZE, formerly of the School of Military Engineering at Linton, and now a retired resident of the Manawatu.  

Stu recently sent me a message via the Medals Reunited NZ Facebook page which went something like this:

Monday, 03 July 2017 – 4.32 p.m.

“Hi Ian, Can you assist pse. During the Vietnam conflict one of our Engrs but a grunt at the time was MID, his name; Wiki Kahika. Just had a call from Aust asking what if any dress regalia is awarded or is it just a paper presentation?  The other reason for asking is that he has never had any formal presentation (this info via a third party). I said I would do an initial check via you in the hopes you may have a ready reference. Thanks Ian – Stu”

Somewhat puzzled as to why a gallantry award such as this had (allegedly) not been formally presented, I first checked my reference material to confirm the soldier in question was entitled, and then located the citation:   572333  Sapper Wiki Kahika RNZE – attached  RNZIR V3 Company, 4th ANZAC Battalion had indeed been awarded a ‘Mention In Dispatches’ (MID)* for gallant actions during a patrol in South Vietnam on the 22nd of June, 1968.  I sent Stu the following:

“Stu, as far as dress embellishments are concerned Wiki is entitled to wear the MID emblem which is a Bronze Oak Leaf on the medal ribbon of his Vietnam Medal, and on the same ribbon on his ribbon bar.  I can send you a copy of his Citation if you wish.  Cheers, Ian”

Stu replied and asked if I knew someone he could talk to at NZ Defence to find out what the situation was re: had Wiki received his full medals entitlement?, had he been presented with his MID?, and if not, could one be arranged ?, and so forth. 

Mention in Dispatches – Bronze Oak Leaf insignia

It was 4.40p.m. when Stu rang me back, exasperated in sheer frustration having made zero progress with his enquiries.  Sensing there was some urgency I suggested to him I would make some inquiries on his behalf to expedite matters, otherwise he would likely need to go through the rather laborious and time consuming process of submitting an application with supporting documentation in order to get official answers – not a quick process!

4.50 p.m. – I decided to press my luck at this late hour and make a call to Trentham Camp to the very helpful Karley at NZDF Personnel Archives and Medals.  Karley quickly emailed me back and confirmed yes, Spr. Kahika had his full medal entitlement, and no, as far as she could see he had not been issued any MID emblems – Karley would send one to me.  

I emailed Stu with what I had found out, said I would box up the MID when it arrived and courier it to him.  I suggested perhaps he could have the MID Citation reproduced in colour and framed; possibly see if he could arrange for a local senior officer (serving or retired) to make a formal presentation of the award to Wiki, e.g. an RNZE Regimental Colonel, CO Engineer Regt., SME etc.  That would at least redress the situation with some dignity, and at next to no cost.  Stu agreed however added that as Wiki knew nothing of Stu’s inquiries of me, he would first need to convince him that this was a ‘wrong’ that needed to be put right, and that Wiki had been entitled to receive such an award in an appropriate fashion. 

Note:  * The award of Mention in Dispatches was replaced  with the New Zealand Gallantry Medal (NZGM) in 1999.

Time check – 5.06 p.m. – 28 minutes and problem solved, I love it when a plan comes together !

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Spr. W. Kahika RNZE – Victor 3, RNZIR – South Vietnam

Wiki Kahika was born in Opotiki, number 9 in a family of 14 – 10 boys and four girls born to Waka KAHIKA and Makarita, nee BROWN.   Like many young men in New Zealand, Wiki had received a letter telling him that his name had been drawn in the latest ballot of 20 year old New Zealand males who were required to undergo national military service training.  

A form of conscription known as Compulsory Military Training (CMT) had been operating in New Zealand since the passing of the Defence Act in 1909.  That Act had required all males between the ages of 18 and 21 to undergo military training.  This in essence had continued in various amended forms until the National Military Service Act superseded the Defence Act in 1961, now requiring all 20 year old males to register with the Department of Labour.  Ballots based on birth dates were held to select intakes of the men for three months full-time training followed by a legal commitment to complete three weeks of training annually to maintain proficiency, for the following three years – failure to do so could result in heavy fines or imprisonment.  The national military service scheme ended with a change of government in 1972.

Having received his call-up notice, on the 5th of January 1965  Wiki Kahika left his home in Opotiki to start 14 weeks basic training as a ‘Noggy’ (the nickname given national serviceman by regular soldiers) at the Army’s National Service Training Unit (NSTU) situated at Waiouru Military Camp.   Wiki had requested Engineers as his corps of choice on enlistment as he had his sights set on becoming a diver; joining the Corps of Engineers was not a problem however the diving did not happen.  Once he had completed his basic training, now Sapper Kahika decided to get his 3 week/3 year commitment out of the way in one hit and so signed-on to complete one the full year.  He shed the ‘Noggy’ title and became a fully fledged Regular Force (RF) soldier/sapper in the RNZE posted to No. 1 Construction Squadron at Papakura Camp – one years service soon led to three (I think he liked Army life?). 

Vietnam Medal with Mention In Dispatches (MID) insignia

By 1967 the New Zealand Army was fully committed to honouring the ANZUS  Agreement with our allies by providing military support in the form of RF (volunteer, not conscripted) Infantry and Artillery units, to the war in Vietnam.  Like most young soldiers of the time, Spr. Wiki Kahika watched with envy the soldiers returning from Vietnam, listened to their exciting tales, and was basically bursting at the seams to be selected for a tour of duty ‘up top’ – South Vietnam.   Spr. Kahika’s basic field engineering skills earned him that ticket (and a change beret from Engineer blue to Infantry green).  He was seconded to the Assault Pioneer Platoon of “Victor 3” (V3), 1st Battalion, Royal New Zealand Infantry Regiment (1RNZIR) – the next line Infantry company slated for rotation into Vietnam.  The company was airlifted in May 1968 from NZ to the 1st Battalion RNZIR’s rear echelon facility at Dieppe Barracks in Singapore for preparatory training, and then moved on up to the garrison base at Terendak Camp in Malaysia.  From here “V3” would be inserted by air into the Phuc Tuy province of South Vietnam to commence their 12 month tour of duty with the 4th ANZAC Battalion.  The focus of their activities would be jungle patrolling in order to gather intelligence and prevent North Vietnamese communist forces (Viet Cong, or ‘VC’ as they were known) from  infiltrating and attacking South Vietnamese targets.  It was whilst on one of these patrols that Sapper Wiki Kahika distinguished himself and was award a ‘Mention in Dispatches’ for gallantry.

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Vietnam Medal and South Vietnam Campaign Medal with Clasp ’60

NZ Gazette Number 13, dated 06 March 1969.

 

Mention in Dispatches (MID)
572333 Sapper Wiki Kahika 
Royal New Zealand Engineers

Victor Three Company (RNZIR)

SOUTH VIETNAM

 

Citation

Sapper Kahika enlisted in the New Zealand Regular Force on 6th January 1965 and was subsequently seconded for duty with the Assault Pioneer Platoon of 1st Battalion, The Royal New Zealand Infantry Regiment which he joined in Malaysia in November 1967.

On 13th May 1968 Sapper Kahika arrived in South Vietnam as a member of the Assault Pioneer Section which was attached to Victor Three Company of 4th Battalion, The Royal Australian Regiment/New Zealand (ANZAC) Bn.

On 22nd June 1968 Sapper Kahika was part of a nine man patrol which was engaged with an enemy company of about seventy to eighty strong. The enemy opened fire on the patrol at about ten metres range and wounded five men. During the initial exchange of fire one of the riflemen was severely wounded and remained lying unconscious only five metres from the nearest enemy entrenchments. Whilst armed helicopters were engaging the enemy, the second in command of the patrol (LCpl Ropeta) directed Sapper Kahika to move forward and recover the wounded rifleman whilst he provided covering fire. Sapper Kahika unhesitatingly ran forward over ten metres of exposed ground, lifted the wounded man and carried him to cover. He then continued to participate in the action which lasted for one hour and forty minutes.

Later, when a relief force had arrived and the wounded had been evacuated, he requested to be allowed to remain and help with the search of the area. He took part in the subsequent search of the enemy company defensive position and personally investigated two of the tunnel systems found there.

His competence, quickness and, above all, bravery in recovering the wounded rifleman was an example and inspiration to the remainder of the patrol. In remaining after the action to give his specialised knowledge to the search he showed a commendable endurance, toughness of character and devotion to duty.

Source: The Vietnam List – NZ in Vietnam 1964-75

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Home again

In July 1969 Sapper Kahika returned to New Zealand (in one piece), swapped his Infantry green beret back to Engineer blue, and took up where he left off with RNZE work.  He returned to Palmerston North having been posted to No. 2 Construction Squadron at the home of the 2nd Engineer Regiment, Linton Military Camp.  His initial three year contract had expired in 1968 and he had re-signed to complete five, then eight, and then 12 years service all up.  During his time with the RNZE Spr. Kahika acquired numerous building trade skills, finding his forte in plastering and jib-stopping with a sideline specialty of block-laying (the tank hangars at Waiouru).  As a consequence he was frequently called upon for major refurbishment jobs at various military camps and bases in NZ, and in the process had also became a fully qualified Plant Operator (dozers, graders, all types of heavy machinery and the like), and later an RNZE  Instructor in plant operations.

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In May 1977 having completed 12 years in the NZ Army, Sapper Wiki Kahika made up his mind it was time to get himself establish in civil employment and accordingly, was honourably discharged from the New Zealand Army at his own request. For the next 17 years Wiki worked for Firths, a nationwide aggregate, concrete, block and tile making firm running their Batching Plant, and then for eight years with Higgins, a road and pavement construction firm – both firms in Palmerston North.  It was 2002 when Wiki, then 58, decide to cease his full time work and with wife Sandra, nee GOVERNOR, and family made the move to be with whanau in Whakatane.  Aside from his Veterans Pension (superannuation), Wiki not one to take it easy, took on various concreting and driving jobs to help ends meet for the next few years.  Times change as do families and Wiki, now separated, moved back to familiar territory in Palmerston North.  In 2012 he was at long last granted a War Disablement Pension and with that made one last move.  Wiki now lives with his son in the small rural Horowhenua town of Shannon, in quiet retirement.

The MID, continued …

Stu visited Wiki in the days following our conversation as they live in same province, and called me back.  Wiki apparently had been very embarrassed when Stu raised the issue with him.  He had recalled receiving a congratulatory telegram at some stage but had never been presented with any MID insignia.  Wiki took some convincing by Stu to understand that what he had missed out on in fact was an entitlement, one which had likely been overlooked as a result of the very busy post-Vietnam repatriation processes.  Wiki understood but was still not keen for the subject to be re-raised, saying .. “it was all a long time ago Stu.”  On a lighter note Wiki had recalled an occasion when he had been challenged by a well known RSM at Linton Camp who had said to him: “Sapper Kahika, you’re incorrectly dressed – where is your MID?” i.e. why was he not wearing the MID on his Vietnam medal ribbons? 

Since no MID emblem had been presented to him at that time, Wiki did not believe he was incorrectly dressed as he was under the impression the awarding of the MID emblem would probably be sorted in due course.  So, Spr. Kahika let the RSM’s ‘incorrect dress‘ comments slide and did what most soldiers tended to do after enduring close scrutiny and/or the wrath of an RSM  – he kept a low profile by making sure he took an inconspicuous position in the middle of the centre or rear rank when on parade, by wearing overalls as often as he could, and by avoiding the RSM whenever he had to wear his uniform.

As a Sapper, Wiki was at the bottom of the rank chain and in that position thought it most inappropriate to ask, let alone ‘rock the boat’ to receive get his MID, besides, these things usually happened in fullness of time and so he was happy enough to wait for that to occur.  It never did.

Some years after Wiki had left the service he learned an old friend and fellow Vietnam Veteran, ex-WO1 (Rtd) Willie Walker RNZAC (a survivor of Long Tan), had taken a civilian position as head of the Defence Medals Section at Trentham.  This prompted Wiki to recall the ribbing he got from time to time on Anzac Day parades for not wearing his MID, and he still had not received his MID emblem for his medals.  He decided to give Willie a call and see if he could help?   When Willie heard the circumstances of Wiki’s having not been presented with any MID emblem, he rectified that in short order by sending Wiki an emblem for his Vietnam Medal ribbon.

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Wiki Kahika, now 73, is not a well man.  As ever he lives a very quiet life, a humble man not given to pomp or ceremony.  After Stu had visited and talked through the lack of any official MID presentation with him, dreading the thought of any fuss or bother, a very reluctant Wiki agreed to Stu asking a few pertinent questions on his behalf, and yes, he would make himself available if required, but only if absolutely necessary.

Postscript – 20 August 2017

Since Stu took up Wiki’s cause to address this presentation anomaly, some serious thought has been given to having Spr. (Rtd) Kahika formally presented with his MID by an appropriate senior military personality, to expunge this regrettable oversight.

Within a week of Stu initiating inquiries the veteran community’s ‘regimental jungle drums’ were also made aware of the award oversight and as a result have gone into overdrive !  

The ‘drums’ have revisited the archival records of NZ’s Vietnam Veterans and it would seem that  Wiki Kahika is not the only soldier to have had their official presentation of the award overlooked.  Anecdotal evidence suggests there may be both soldiers and officers (perhaps as many as 20?) who have not have been officially presented with their MID emblems and/or Citation, after their repatriation from Vietnam.  In some cases emblems were ‘acquired’ by resourceful individuals or purchased from the internet, however, most of these humble men said nothing and not wanting to draw attention to themselves or make a fuss – just got on with the job and thought no more about it.

June 22nd, 2018 will mark 50 years to the day since 572333 Sapper (Rtd) Wiki Kahika, RNZE earned a ‘Mention In Dispatches’ for gallantry in South Vietnam with “Victor 3 Company”, 4th ANZAC Battalion – Wiki will be 74 years of age. 

All things being equal, a well over-due official presentation of Wiki Kahika’s gallantry award will occur in the near future – however, for some of the other brave soldiers who served in South Vietnam and were also ‘Mentioned In  Dispatches’ it is too late – time and circumstances have beaten them …. Kei wareware tatou – lest we forget.

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Well done Stu for taking up an old soldier’s cause and being the driver behind what is now evolving into a situation from which a number of former servicemen are likely to benefit.

A special thank you to Karley J. of the PAMs team at Trentham for her professional and prompt attention to my no-notice request.

MRNZ has been proud to be of assistance in having Wiki Kahika appropriately recognised – thanks Stu for placing your trust in me to get this ball rolling – a pleasure to have been of service.  

The reunited medal tally is now 152.

 

 

 

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